Although one could easily make the argument that I’m as bad about this as anyone, it’s too easy this early in the season to make snap judgments about a team, or even new rules. One could make the argument that we’re as bad about it as anyone here, but in our defense, that’s kind of what we do.
Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with it, as long as you’re willing to allow them to change as the year progresses. As mentioned in last night’s final word, the reviews of the new foul rules are almost wholly negative, and the numbers support skepticism. But I hardly believe that what the decision makers envisioned is what’s coming true. The question now, will that happen? Will teams adjust, and more open, free-flowing basketball result. Or are glorified free-throw contests going to become the norm. If it’s the latter, a rule change will come sooner rather than later.
It’s the same with teams. Tennessee State right now doesn’t look like they’ll break 70 points all year. But by January, when conference play begins, that could completely change. Eastern Kentucky could solve their rebounding woes, UT Martin might find a complimentary group of scorers. The fact is, in a one-bid conference like the OVC, every game leading up to January is more or less practice. Sure, wins matter for seeding, and if you can win almost all of them, an at-large is far from out of the question. But more often than not, the non-conference schedule is there to get your team ready for conference play.
So what’s the point of all this? Relax everyone. We’re just four days into a five-month long season. Don’t formulate unchangeable opinions about anything right now. Your favorite team is probably not as bad, or not as good as you think. New rules are not destroying college basketball. Enjoy the start of a new season, and stop worrying so much.
There’s plenty of time for that in February.
Morehead State (1-0) at East Tennessee State (0-1 Atlantic Sun)
7:00 p.m. EST
In their season opener against NAIA Mid-Continent, the Eagles were able to avoid the foul bug that caused so many problems a year ago. The first thing I’m looking for: can they do it again, against a Division I opponent?
Seemingly everyone got on the scoreboard in their opener, and unless ETSU has really shored up their defense from last year’s 10-22 team, there’s a chance that could be repeated. The Bucs were among the worst defensive teams in the nation last season, allowing more than 70 points a content. They also weren’t a very good rebounding team, something Morehead State will hope to take advantage of.
Offensively, East Tennessee State graduated a pair of 15-point a game scorers in the backcourt. That doesn’t mean they’re without scoring, though. Sophomore 6’4 forward Lester Wilson averaged 13 points a game last season as a freshman, and guard Rashawn Rembert was just shy of double-digits. In their opener, a narrow loss on the road against Charlotte, it wasn’t one of those players who stole the show. 6’6 forward Kinard Gadsden-Gillard put up a game high 31-points and five rebounds. He made four three’s in the game, one shy of his total from the year before, where he averaged just five points a contest.
Having yet to face a Division I opponent, it’s too early to try to read Morehead State. They still want to run, they still want to score, and they still want to force a lot of turnovers, a bit more of a challenge under the new rules.
Loyola (Ill) (1-0 MVC) at Tennessee Tech (0-1)
6:30 p.m. CST
Our question coming into the season for the Golden Eagles was simple enough: do they have playmakers on offense. Despite putting up just 62 points in a loss to South Florida, I’m encouraged in this department. Returning scoring leaders Jeremiah Samarrippas and Dennis Ogbe were mostly ineffective, but Nebraska transfer Josiah Moore and JUCO transfer Ty Allen combined for 40 points in the loss. Tech’s defense kept them in a lot of conference games last year, and if they can get all four players going offensively, the Golden Eagles could be quite solid.
If you look past the South Florida score, there’s even more reason to be optimistic about Tennessee Tech’s future. TTU hung in on the boards against a larger Bulls team, there were in the game despite horrid 55% free-throw shooting. (Which has to get better) Samarrippas had a horrible day, but TTU was close in the turnover battle. It was a fairly encouraging start for a loss.
Loyola isn’t going to making things particularly easy. The Ramblers were a good three-point shooting team last season, and got off to a 7-14 start for the year in a win over Milwaukee. Their biggest three-point threat, Devon Turk, only played 11 minutes in the opener, and his minutes will almost certainly rise as the season progresses.
Jeff White could be a player to watch for the Ramblers. Last season, White never scored more than 13 points in a game, averaging five a contest. He opened the year with 23, hitting 6-10 from the field and hitting all 11 free-throw attempts. His teammate in the backcourt, Christian Thomas is listed as a guard, but the 6’5 junior averaged more than five rebounds a game last year, and a had a double-double in the season opener.
Jacksonville State (0-2) at Chicago State (1-1 WAC)
7:05 p.m. CST
Since when does a team based in the city of Chicago, Illinois in any way qualify for the “Western Athletic Conference.” In a related point, boy has this conference all but fallen off the map. This conference used to have UNLV, TCU, Rice, SMU, San Jose State. And that was fairly recently. Now? Chicago State and UMKC. Eh.
Complaining about conference realignment aside, Chicago State hasn’t had a winning season since 2008-09. They won 11 games last year, a major jump from just four the year before. Their one win so far this year came against Non-Division I Urbana. (SEMO football fans know a little something about that school.) The Cougars were a very one-sided team. Their defense was fairly solid in Great West play, but the team struggled mightily to score. Especially noteworthy was Chicago State’s propensity to force turnovers, forcing 16 a contest.
Both their 10-point a game scorers from last year are back, and junior guard Clarke Rosenberg is off to a strong start. He put up 27 points in a lopsided loss to Indiana, and 13 in the non D-I win. Rosenberg was a 41% shooter from the field a year ago, (solid for a 6’3 guard) but didn’t play a ton of minutes, averaging 7.7 points.
The Gamecocks have gone out and challenged themselves early this season, and it’s why I think their statistics are probably a bit lopsided. They’ve rebounded well against two larger teams, but aren’t making shots, just 7-36 (19%) for the year behind the three-point line. For a hard-nosed, aggressive defense, JSU has avoided major foul trouble so many teams have experienced.
As has been the case the past few seasons, it doesn’t appear this team has one or two dominant scorers. Brian Williams and Darion Rackley are each good for 8-12 points a game, but I’m really encouraged what I’m seeing out of Grant White. The junior has put solid numbers through two games, and could provide good minutes on the offensive side of the ball.
Brescia (NAIA) at Murray State (0-1)
7:00 p.m. CST
With just eight scholarship players, there are two things the Racers can’t afford to happen tonight, or really for the next month: another injury, and foul trouble. The Racers didn’t run away from their exhibition NAIA opponent until the second half, but the starters will likely be forced to play significant minutes against the Bearcats, because there’s just not any one else.